An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday after taking off from Russia. The trip represents a rare sign of cooperation between Moscow and Washington at the height of the war in Ukraine.
The Soyuz rocket with the crew on board took off at the appointed time, 13:54 GMT (15:54 in Switzerland), tearing the darkened sky of the Kazakh steppe at the Russian Baikonur cosmodrome with a fiery plume.
The spacecraft, carrying NASA’s American Frank Rubio and Russians Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitry Petelain of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, docked with the ISS about three hours later, the US space agency said in a statement.
This Russian-American mission comes at a time when relations between the Westerners and Russia, which sent its troops on February 24 to attack Ukraine, are at their lowest point. With the conflict seriously escalating, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of the population, threatening to use nuclear weapons.
Frank Rubio is the first American astronaut to fly to the ISS aboard a Russian rocket since the introduction of troops from Moscow to Ukraine.
Six months on the ISS
The crew is to spend six months aboard the orbiting laboratory, where they meet with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov, American astronauts Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Jessica Watkins, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
As a result of cooperation between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the ISS is divided into two segments: American and Russian.
The ISS currently depends on the Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit at an altitude of about 400 kilometers above sea level, while the American segment provides electricity and life support systems.
After Wednesday’s flight, Anna Kikina, Russia’s only active-duty female cosmonaut, is due to travel to the orbiting laboratory for the first time in early October aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and its Crew Dragon capsule.
She will become the fifth professional Russian female cosmonaut to go into space, and the first Russian woman to fly aboard the spacecraft of billionaire Elon Musk.
Moscow wants to leave the ISS
Space tensions have risen since Washington announced sanctions against Russia’s aerospace industry, prompting warnings from Dmitry Rogozin, former Russian space chief and outspoken supporter of intervention in Ukraine.
Rogozin’s newly appointed successor, Yuri Borisov, later confirmed Russia’s decision to leave the ISS after 2024 in favor of building its own orbital station. He has not yet named a specific date. The US space agency called the move an “unfortunate event” that would hinder scientific work on the ISS.
According to experts in the field of cosmonautics, the construction of a new orbital station in Moscow could take more than ten years and the Russian space industry, which has been the pride of the country since the days of the USSR, could not survive. under heavy fines.
The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for cooperation between the United States and Russia.